|Country United Kingdom|
Founded 1660, United Kingdom
Parent organization Ministry of Defence
|Allegiance Elizabeth II|
Patron Elizabeth II
Role Ground warfare
Attack aircraft AgustaWestland Apache
|Size 87,610 Regular30,000 Regular Reserve28,800 Volunteer Reserve|
Subsidiaries Parachute Regiment, The Rifles, Highlanders
Similar Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, United States Army, Royal Electrical and Mech
British army selection in pokhara
The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom. As of 2016 the British Army comprises just over 80,000 trained Regular, or full-time, personnel and just over 26,300 trained Reserve, or part-time personnel.
- British army selection in pokhara
- Early British Empire
- World wars
- Postcolonial era
- Recent conflicts
- Persian Gulf War
- Balkans conflicts
- War in Afghanistan
- Iraq War
- The Troubles
- Formation and structure
- Operational structure
- Rapid Reaction Force
- Combat support
- Aviation components
- Special forces
- Locally raised units of British Overseas Territories
- Royal Navy and Royal Air Force infantry units
- Oath of allegiance
- Training establishments
- Flags and ensigns
- Ranks specialisms and insignia
- Working Dress
- Parade Uniforms
- Tommy Atkins and other nicknames
The origins of the modern British Army can be traced as far back as 1660, when it was known as the English Army, with the term British Army adopted in 1707 after the Acts of Union between England and Scotland. Today, although all members of the British Army are expected to swear (or affirm) allegiance to Elizabeth II as their Commander-in-Chief, the Bill of Rights of 1689 requires parliamentary consent for the Crown to maintain a standing army in peacetime. Therefore, the UK Parliament approves the continued existence of the Army by passing an Armed Forces Act at least once every five years. Day to day the Army comes under administration of the Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom) and is commanded by the Chief of the General Staff (United Kingdom).
Throughout its history the British Army has seen action in a number of major wars involving the world's great powers, including the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the First World War and Second World War. Repeatedly emerging victorious from these decisive wars allowed Britain to influence world events with its policies and establish itself as one of the world's leading military and economic powers. Since the end of the Cold war the British Army has continued to deploy to many conflict zones, often as part of an expeditionary force, a coalition force or as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.
In 1660 the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were restored under Charles II. Charles favoured the foundation of a new army under royal control and began work towards its establishment by August 1660. The first English Army regiments, including elements of the disbanded New Model Army, were formed between November 1660 and January 1661, and became a standing military force for Britain financed by the Parliament of England. The Royal Scots Army and the Irish Army were financed by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of Ireland. Parliamentary control was established by the Bill of Rights 1689 and Claim of Right Act 1689, although the monarch continued to have influence over aspects of army administration until at least the end of the nineteenth century. By the time of the Acts of Union in 1707, many regiments of the English and Scottish armies were already combined under one operational command and stationed in the Netherlands fighting in the War of Spanish Succession. Consequently, although the regiments were now part of the new British military establishment, they remained under the same operational command, and so not only were the regiments of the old armies transferred in situ to the new army so too was the institutional ethos, customs, and traditions, of the old standing armies that had been created shortly after the restoration of the monarchy 47 years earlier. The order of seniority of the most senior line regiments in the British Army is based on the order of seniority in the English army. Although the Scots Royal Regiment of Foot was raised in 1633, the oldest Regiment of the Line, Scottish and Irish regiments were only allowed to take a rank in the English army from the date of their arrival in England or the date when they were first placed on the English establishment. For example, in 1694 a board of general officers was convened to decide the rank of English, Irish and Scots regiments serving in the Netherlands; the regiment that became known as the Scots Greys were designated as the 4th Dragoons because there were three English regiments raised prior to 1688 when the Scots Greys were first placed on the English establishment. In 1713, when a new board of general officers was convened to decide upon the rank of several regiments, the seniority of the Scots Greys was reassessed and based on their entry into England in June 1685. At that time there was only one English regiment of dragoons, and so after some delay the Scots Greys obtained the rank of 2nd Dragoons in the British Army.
After William and Mary's accession to the throne, England involved itself in the War of the Grand Alliance, primarily to prevent a French invasion restoring Mary's father, James II. Following the union of England and Scotland in 1707, and the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, British foreign policy on the continent was to contain expansion by its competitor powers such as France and Spain. Spain, in the previous two centuries, had been the dominant global power, and the chief threat to England's early transatlantic ambitions, but was now waning. The territorial ambitions of the French, however, led to the War of the Spanish Succession and the Napoleonic Wars.
From the time of the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, Great Britain was the leading naval power and with France one of the two economic powers of the world.
Early British Empire
The British Empire expanded in this time to include colonies, protectorates, and Dominions throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia. Although the Royal Navy is widely regarded as having been vital for the rise of the British Empire, and British dominance of the world, the British Army played an important role in the colonisation of India and other regions.
British soldiers also helped capture strategically important territories, allowing the empire to expand. The army was also involved in numerous wars to pacify the borders, or to prop up friendly governments, and thereby keep other, competitive, empires away from the British Empire's borders. Among these actions were the Seven Years' War, the American Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, the First and Second Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the New Zealand wars, the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the First and Second Boer Wars, the Fenian raids, the Irish War of Independence, its serial interventions into Afghanistan (which were meant to maintain a friendly buffer state between British India and the Russian Empire), and the Crimean War (to keep the Russian Empire at a safe distance by coming to Turkey's aid).
As had its predecessor, the English Army, the British Army fought Spain, France, and the Netherlands for supremacy in North America and the West Indies. With native and provincial assistance, the Army conquered New France in the North American theatre of the Seven Years' War and subsequently suppressed a Native American uprising in Pontiac's War. The British Army suffered defeat in the American War of Independence, losing the Thirteen Colonies but holding on to Canada.
The British Army was heavily involved in the Napoleonic Wars and served in multiple campaigns across Europe (including continuous deployment in the Peninsular War), the Caribbean, North Africa and later in North America. The war between the British and the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte stretched around the world and at its peak, in 1813, the regular army contained over 250,000 men. A Coalition of Anglo-Dutch and Prussian Armies under the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshal von Blücher defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The English had been involved, both politically and militarily, in Ireland since being given the Lordship of Ireland by the Pope in 1171. The campaign of the English republican Protector, Oliver Cromwell, involved uncompromising treatment of the Irish towns (most notably Drogheda and Wexford) that had supported the Royalists during the English Civil War. The English Army (and subsequently the British Army) stayed in Ireland primarily to suppress numerous Irish revolts and campaigns for independence. In addition to its ongoing conflict with ethnic Irish nationalists, it was faced with the prospect of battling Anglo-Irish and Ulster Scots peoples in Ireland, angered primarily by unfavourable taxation of Irish produce imported into Britain, who, alongside other Irish groups, had raised their own volunteer army and threatened to emulate the American colonists if their conditions were not met. Having learnt from their experience in America, the British government sought a political solution. The British Army found itself fighting Irish rebels, both Protestant and Catholic, primarily in Ulster and Leinster (Wolfe Tone's United Irishmen) in the 1798 rebellion.
In addition to battling the armies of other European Empires (and of its former colonies, the United States, in the American War of 1812), in the battle for global supremacy, the British Army fought the Chinese in the First and Second Opium Wars, and the Boxer Rebellion, Māori tribes in the first of the New Zealand Wars, Nawab Shiraj-ud-Daula's forces and British East India Company mutineers in the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the Boers in the First and Second Boer Wars, Irish Fenians in Canada during the Fenian raids and Irish separatists in the Anglo-Irish War. The vastly increasing demands of imperial expansion, and the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the underfunded, post-Napoleonic Wars British Army, and of the Militia, Yeomanry, and Volunteer Force, led to the Cardwell and Childers Reforms of the late 19th century, which gave the British Army its modern shape, and redefined its regimental system. The Haldane Reforms of 1907 formally created the Territorial Force as the Army's volunteer reserve component by merging and reorganising the Volunteer Force, Militia, and Yeomanry.
Great Britain's dominance of the world had been challenged by numerous other powers; in the 20th century, most notably Germany. A century before, it was still vying with Napoleonic France for pre-eminence in Europe and around the world, and Hannoverian Britain's natural allies were the various Kingdoms and principalities of Northern Germany. By the middle of the 19th century, Britain and France were allied in preventing Russia's appropriation of the Ottoman Empire (although it was the fear of French invasion that led, shortly after, to the creation of the Volunteer Force). By the first decade of the 20th century, however, the United Kingdom was allied with France (by the Entente Cordiale) and Russia (which had its own secret agreement with France of mutual support in any war against the Prussian-led German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)
When the First World War broke out in August 1914, the British Army sent the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), consisting mainly of Regular Army troops, to France and Belgium to prevent Germany from occupying these countries. The British Army created the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) in Egypt and sent it to Gallipoli in an unsuccessful attempt to capture Constantinople and secure a sea route to Russia. After the retreat from Gallipoli nearly 400,000 men in 13 divisions from the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Force in Egypt formed a strategic reserve in Egypt called the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). With most of the strategic reserve sent to the Western Front, the EEF, now consisting of two British infantry and one Australian and New Zealand mounted division in the Eastern Force, successfully defend the Suez Canal and Romani in 1916 from German and Ottoman incursions. This force captured the Sinai and garrisoned the extended lines of communication, but in early 1917 their advance was stopped at Gaza until towards the end of the year when a greatly enlarged force of infantry and mounted troops captured Beersheba, most of southern Palestine and Jerusalem. The EEF, now including Indian Army units which replaced a number of British units sent to the Western Front, captured the southern Jordan Valley in 1918 and carried out two major, but unsuccessful attacks to Amman and Es Salt and occupied part of the Jordan Valley, during preparations for his final successful assault in September at the Battle of Megiddo. As a result of the EEF's capture of two Ottoman armies, an armistice with the Ottoman Empire was signed on 31 October 1918.
The First World War was the most devastating in British military history, with nearly 800,000 men killed and over 2 million wounded. In the early part of the war, the professional force of the BEF was virtually destroyed and, by turns, a volunteer (and then conscript) force replaced it. Major battles included the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele. Advances in technology saw advent of the tank, with the creation of the Royal Tank Regiment, and advances in aircraft design, with the creation of the Royal Flying Corps, which were to be decisive in future battles. Trench warfare dominated strategy on the Western Front for most of the war, and the use of chemical and poison gases added to the devastation.
The Second World War broke out in September 1939 with the German Army's invasion of Poland. British assurances to the Polish led the British Empire to declare war on Germany. Again, as in the First World War, a relatively small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was sent to France, only to be hastily evacuated as the German forces swept through the Low Countries and across France in May 1940. Only the Dunkirk evacuation saved the entire BEF from capture. Later, however, the British would have spectacular success defeating the Germans and Italians at the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in 1942–1943, Italy and in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, with the help of American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Indian and Free French forces. Almost half of the Allied soldiers on D-Day were British. In the Far East, the British Army battled the Japanese in the Burma Campaign. The Second World War saw the British Army develop its Special Air Service, Commando units and the Parachute Regiment.
After the end of the Second World War, the British Army was significantly reduced in size, although National Service continued until 1960. This period also saw the process of decolonisation commence with the partition and independence of India and Pakistan, followed by the independence of British colonies in Africa and Asia. Accordingly, the army's strength was further reduced, in recognition of Britain's reduced role in world affairs, outlined in the 1957 Defence White Paper. This was despite major actions in Korea in the early 1950s and Suez in 1956. A large force of British troops also remained in Germany, facing the threat of Soviet invasion. The British Army of the Rhine was the Germany garrison formation, with the main fighting force being I (BR) Corps. The Cold War saw significant technological advances in warfare and the Army saw more technologically advanced weapons systems come into service.
Despite the decline of the British Empire, the Army was still deployed around the world, fighting wars in Aden, Indonesia, Cyprus, Kenya and Malaya. In 1982 the British Army, alongside the Royal Marines, helped to liberate the Falkland Islands during the Falklands conflict against Argentina, after Argentina's invasion of the British territory.
In the three decades following 1969, the Army was heavily deployed in Northern Ireland, to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary (later the Police Service of Northern Ireland) in their conflict with republican paramilitary groups, called Operation Banner. The locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment was formed, later becoming home service battalions in the Royal Irish Regiment in 1992, before being disbanded in 2006. Over 700 soldiers were killed during the Troubles. Following the IRA ceasefires between 1994 and 1996 and since 1997, demilitarisation has taken place as part of the peace process, reducing the military presence. On 25 June 2007, the Second Battalion Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment vacated the Army complex at Bessbrook Mill in Armagh, bringing to an end the longest British Army operation.
The British Army is purely a professional force since National service came to an end in the 1960s. Since the creation of the part-time reservist Territorial Force in 1908 (renamed the Army Reserve in 2011) the full-time component of the British Army has been known as the Regular Army. The size and structure of the British Army is continually evolving. Accordingly, the Ministry of Defence publishes monthly reports on personnel. Figures for May 2016 show; 83,360 Regulars, 2,850 Gurkhas and 29,630 Army Reservists. Of those Army Reservists, 26,330 were trained.
The future transformation of the British Army is referred to as "Army 2020", which is the result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. According to the Ministry of Defence, Army 2020 will "ensure that the British Army remains the most capable Army in its class" and enable "it to better meet the security challenges of the 2020s and beyond". Initially, the SDSR outlined a reduction of the Regular British Army by 7,000 to a trained strength of 95,000 personnel by 2015. However, following a further independent review on the future structure of the British Army, "Future Reserves 2020", it was announced that the Regular Army will be reduced to a trained strength of 82,000 while the Army Reserve will be increased to a trained strength of around 30,000 personnel. This reform will bring the ratio of regular and part-time personnel of the British Army in line with US and Canadian allies. Perhaps the most important aspect of Army 2020 is that the Army Reserve will become "fully integrated" with the Regular Army and "better prepared" for overseas deployments and operations.
In addition to the active elements of the British Army (Regular and Army Reserve), all ex-Regular Army personnel remain liable to be recalled for duty in a time of need, this is known as the Regular Reserve. The Regular Reserve is separated into two categories: A and D. Category A is mandatory, with the length of time serving in category A depending on time spent in Regular service. Category D is voluntary and consists of personnel who are no-longer required to serve in category A. Regular Reserves in both category A and D serve under a fixed-term reserve contract and are liable to report for training or service overseas and at home, much in the manner of the Army Reserve. In 2007 there were 121,800 Regular Reserves of the British Army, of which, 33,760 served in categories A and D. Publications since April 2013 no longer report the entire strength of the Regular Reserve, instead they only give a figure for the Regular Reserves serving in categories A and D only. They had a reported strength of 30,000 personnel in 2015.
The table below shows historical personnel trends of the British Army from 1710 to 2010. The Army Reserve – or Territorial Army, as it was known then – did not come into existence until 1908.Notes: 1710–1900, 1918 & 1945, 1920, 1930, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980–2000, 2010, 2015
The basic infantry weapon of the British Army is the L85A2 assault rifle, sometimes equipped with an L17A2 underbarrel grenade launcher or other attachments using the Picatinny rail. The rifle has several variants, including the L86A2, the Light Support Weapon (LSW), and the L22A2 carbine issued to tank crews. These weapons are usually equipped with iron sights or an optical SUSAT, although in recent years several optical sights have been purchased to supplement these.
Support fire is provided by the FN Minimi light machine gun and the L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG); whilst indirect fire is provided by 81 mm mortars. The L129A1 Sharpshooter Rifle was brought into service during the War in Afghanistan and to provide the Infantry with a long-range weapon; in addition, dedicated Sniper rifles used include the L118A1 7.62 mm, the L115A3 and the AW50F, all produced by Accuracy International. Additionally, in times of need, other weapons may be temporarily adopted such as the L128A1 (Benelli M4) 'combat shotgun'.
The British Army's main battle tank is the Challenger 2. This is supported by the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle as the primary armoured personnel carrier, the many variants of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (tracked) and the FV430 series, which had its engines and armour upgraded as the Bulldog. Light armoured units will often utilise the Supacat "Jackal" MWMIK and Coyote in a reccosiance and fire support role.
The Army uses three main artillery systems: the Multi Launch Rocket System (MLRS), the AS-90 and L118 Light Gun. The MLRS was first used operationally in Operation Granby and has a range of 85 km. The AS-90 is a 155 mm self-propelled armoured gun with a range of 24 km. The L118 Light Gun is a 105 mm towed gun used in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade, 3 Commando Brigade (Royal Marines) and the Adaptive Force. For acquiring enemy artillery targets the Army operates several weapon locators, such as the MAMBA Radar and also utilises Artillery sound ranging. For Air Defence the Army uses the Short-Range Air Defence (SHORAD) Rapier FSC Missile System, which has been widely deployed since the Falklands War, and the Very Short-Range Air Defence (VSHORAD) Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile), which is either launched by a single soldier or from a vehicle-mounted launcher.
For environments where armour is either not required or mobility and speed are favoured the British Army utilises Protected Patrol Vehicles such as the Panther variant of the Iveco LMV and variants of the Cougar family such as the Foxhound, Ridgeback, Husky & Mastiff. For day to day utility work the British Army commonly uses the Land Rover Wolf which is based on the Land Rover Defender.
Specialist engineering vehicles include bomb disposal robots and the modern variants of the Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers, including the Titan bridge-layer, Trojan combat engineer vehicle, Terrier Armoured Digger and Python Minefield Breaching System.
Day to day utility work is undertaken by a series of Support Vehicles, including 6, 9 & 15 tonne trucks (often referred to as 'Bedfords' after a historic utility vehicle), Heavy Equipment Transporters (HET), close support tankers, quad bikes and ambulances.
Tactical communication is conducted using the Bowman radio system, whilst Operational or Strategic communication comes under the control of the Royal Corps of Signals.
The Army Air Corps (AAC) provides direct aviation support for the Army, although the RAF also contributes by providing support helicopters. The primary attack helicopter is the Westland WAH-64 Apache, a licence-built, modified version of the US AH-64 Apache, which replaced the Westland Lynx AH7 in the anti-tank role. Other helicopters include the Westland Gazelle as a light surveillance aircraft, the Bell 212 for support in specific Jungle / 'hot and high' environments and the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat as a dedicated ISTAR platform. The Eurocopter AS 365N Dauphin is used for Special Operations Aviation and the Britten-Norman Islander is a light fixed-wing aircraft used for airborne reconnaissance and command and control. The British Army operates two Unmanned aerial vehicles in a survellience role, the small Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk III and the larger Thales Watchkeeper WK450.
Although the ending of the Cold War saw a significant cut in manpower, the British Army has continued to operate in a global role, notably in:
Persian Gulf War
The British Army contributed 50,000 troops to the coalition force that fought Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, where British forces were put in control of Kuwait after its liberation. 47 British Military personnel died during the Persian Gulf War.
The British Army was deployed to Yugoslavia in 1992; initially this force formed part of the United Nations Protection Force, but in 1995 command was transferred to IFOR and then to SFOR, rising to a commitment of over 10,000 troops. In 1999 British forces under the command of SFOR were sent to Kosovo, rising to a commitment of 19,000. Between early 1993 and June 2010, 72 British military personnel died on operations in the former Yugoslavian countries of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
War in Afghanistan
In November 2001 the United Kingdom, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom with the United States, invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The 3rd Division were deployed in Kabul, to assist in the liberation of the troubled capital and to defeat Taliban forces in the mountainous terrain. From 2006 the British Army concentrated on fighting Taliban forces and bringing security to Helmand province (known as Operation Herrick), with around 9,500 British troops (including marines, airmen and sailors) deployed at its peak, making it the second largest force after the United States. In December 2012, the prime minister, David Cameron, announced that the combat mission would end in 2014 and troop numbers gradually fell as the Afghan National Army took over the brunt of the fighting. Between 2001 and 26 April 2014 a total of 453 British military personnel died on operations in Afghanistan. Operation Herrick officially ended with the handover of Camp Bastion on 26 October 2014. The British Army currently maintains a deployment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Toral.
In 2003 the United Kingdom was a major contributor to the invasion of Iraq, sending a force that would reach 46,000 military personnel. The British Army controlled the southern regions of Iraq and maintained a peace-keeping presence in the city of Basra. All British troops were fully withdrawn from Iraq by 30 April 2009 after the Iraqi government refused to extend their mandate. 179 British Military personnel died on operations in Iraq. British Armed Forces returned to Iraq in 2014 as part of Operation Shader to counter the threat of ISIL.
Although there were permanent garrisons in Northern Ireland, the British Army was deployed as a peacekeeping force between 1969 and 2007 under the code-named "Operation Banner". Initially this was in the wake of Unionist attacks on Nationalist communities in Derry and Belfast and to prevent further Loyalist attacks on Catholic communities, but later developed into support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and its successor, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) against the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA). Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement there was a gradual reduction in the number of soldier deployed and in in 2005, after the Provisional Irish Republican Army announced an end to its armed conflict in Northern Ireland, the British Army dismantled posts and withdrew many troops, and restored troop levels to that of a peace-time garrison.
Operation Banner ended at midnight on 31 July 2007, bringing to an end some 38 years of continuous deployment, making it the longest in the British Army's history. An internal British Army document released in 2007 stated that the British Army had failed to defeat the IRA but had made it impossible for them to win through the use of violence. Operation Helvetic replaced Operation Banner in 2007 maintaining fewer servicemen in a much more benign environment. From 1971 to 1997 a total of 763 British military personnel were killed during the "Troubles". Some 300 deaths during the conflict were attributed to the British Army, including paramilitary and civilians.
Formation and structure
The structure of the British Army is broadly similar to that of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, with a single command based at Andover known as "Army Headquarters". As the top-level budget holder, this organisation is responsible for providing forces at operational readiness for employment by the Permanent Joint Headquarters.
The command structure is hierarchical with divisions and brigades controlling groupings of units from an administrative perspective. Major Units are regiment or battalion-sized with minor units being either company sized sub-units or platoons All units within the service are either Regular (full-time) or Army Reserve (part-time), or a combination with sub-units of each type.
Naming conventions of units differ for traditional British historical reasons, creating a significant opportunity for confusion; notably the term Battalion in the infantry is synonymous with a cavalry/artillery/engineer Regiment, and the Infantry Company is synonymous with an engineer or cavalry Squadron and an artillery Battery. The table below highlights how units of different sizes are named differently:
Further adding to the naming confusion is the tendency for units, again for historical reasons, to mis-use titles for larger administrative structures. For example, the Royal Artillery comprises of 13 Regular Regiments (equivalent to infantry battalions), yet also calls itself the 'Royal Regiment of Artillery' when referring to all these units as a whole. Similarly the Royal Logistic Corps and Intelligence Corps are not of Corps size, but rather comprise of multiple Battalions/Regiments.
The field forces of the British Army after the Army 2020 Refine reforms are organised, in garrison, as:
For operational tasks the most common unit is the Battlegroup, which is formed around a combat unit, supported by units or sub-units from other areas. An example of a battlegroup in the Reactive Force (e.g. 1st Brigade) would be two companies of Armoured Infantry (e.g. from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment), one squadron of heavy armour (e.g. A Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment), a company of engineers (e.g. B Company, 22 Engineer Regiment), a battery of artillery (e.g. D Battery, 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery) and then smaller attachments from medical, logistic and intelligence units; typically organised and commanded by a Battlegroup Headquarters and named after the unit that provided the most combat units (e.g. in this example it would be called the 1 Mercian Battlegroup). This creates a self-sustaining mixed formation of armour, infantry, artillery, engineers and support units, typically consisting of between 600 and 1000 soldiers under the command of a Lieutenant Colonel. The structure and command of a Battlegroup is often changed to suit the environment where the unit is operating (e.g. if there is a demand for more heavy armour over armoured infantry the battlegroup is adjusted to include 2 squadrons of tanks and 1/2 of infantry).
The table below demonstrates how three or four Battlegroups make up a Brigade and then three or four Brigades make up a Division. A division is currently the largest unit that the British Army is capable of deploying independably, although that Division could be grouped with three or four other divisions from a multi-national coalition to form a Corps.
The British Army currently has two operational divisions.
Brigades which are not under 1st (UK) Division at any one time report directly into Regional Command.
Rapid Reaction Force
16 Air Assault Brigade forms the bulk of the Army's rapid reaction force.
Force Troops Command, or FTC, forms the basis of the Army's Combat support, containing units ranging from artillery to military police.
The British Army has its own Army Air Corps (United Kingdom), but also relies on the support from the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. Military helicopters of all three services are commanded by Joint Helicopter Command, a joint 2 star headquarters operating under HQ Land Forces.
The British Army contributes two of the three special forces formations within the United Kingdom Special Forces directorate: the Special Air Service Regiment and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.
The Special Air Service overall comprises one regular regiment and two Army Reserve regiments. The regular regiment, 22 SAS, has its headquarters and depot located in Hereford and consists of five squadrons: A, B, D, G and Reserve with a training wing. 22 SAS is supported by two reserve regiments, 21 SAS and 23 SAS (collectively, the Special Air Service (Reserve) (SAS(R))), which now come under the command of 1st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Brigade.
The Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR), formed in 2005 from existing assets, undertakes close reconnaissance and special surveillance tasks.
The Special Forces Support Group, which comes under the Operational Control of the Director of Special Forces, provides operational manoeuvre support to the elements of United Kingdom Special Forces. It was formed around the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, with attached Royal Marines and RAF Regiment assets.
Locally raised units of British Overseas Territories
Historically the British Army included many units from Commonwealth Dominion countries and as these countries gained independence the control of these armies passed to the native government (e.g. Australian Army). However, units raised in other territories, including self-governing, Crown colonies and protectorates, remain under the control of the UK Government. To this day the UK retains responsibility for the defence of all of the fourteen remaining British Overseas Territories, of which four retain locally raised Regiments:
Royal Navy and Royal Air Force infantry units
The other armed services have their own infantry units which are not part of the British Army. The Royal Marines are amphibious light infantry forming part of the Naval Service, and the Royal Air Force has the RAF Regiment used for airfield defence, force protection duties and Forward Air Control.
The Army mainly recruits within the United Kingdom, but does accept applications from people from Commonwealth nations and occasionally from friendly nations who meet certain criteria. In 2016 the decision was made that all roles will be open to women from 2018, previously women were not permitted to join the Combat Arms. The British Army is an equal opportunties employer (with some exceptions due to stringent medical standards) and does not discriminate based on race, religion or sexual orientation.
The minimum recruitment age is 16 (after the end of GCSEs), although soldiers may not serve on operations below 18 years; the maximum recruitment age was raised in January 2007 from 26 to 33 years. The maximum age for Army Reserve soldiers is higher. Traditionally a soldier would sign on for a term of 22 years, although recently there has been a shift towards shorter 12 year terms of service with an option to extend out to 22 years. Once enlisted a soldier is not normally permitted to leave until they have served four years and must give 12 months notice.
Oath of allegiance
All soldiers must take an oath of allegiance upon joining the Army, a process known as attestation. Those who wish to swear by God use the following words:
I, [soldier's name], swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.
Others replace the words "swear by Almighty God" with "solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm". Under the reign of another monarch, the name of the monarch and all pronouns with gender are replaced appropriately.
Flags and ensigns
The official flag of the Army as a whole is the Union Flag, flown in a ratio of 3:5, although a non-ceremonial flag does exist and is often used at recruiting events, military events, exhibitions and also flies from the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall. Whilst at war, the Union Flag is always used, and this flag represents the Army on The Cenotaph at Whitehall in London (the UK's memorial to its war dead).
Each British Army unit has a set of flags known as the Colours—normally a Regimental Colour and a Queen's Colour (the Union Flag). The design of different Regimental Colours vary but typically the colour has the Regiment's badge in the centre and is often embroidered with historic Battle honours.
Ranks, specialisms and insignia
Every regiment and corps has its own distinctive insignia, such as cap badge, beret, tactical recognition flash and stable belt. Many units also call soldiers of different ranks by different names (e.g. a NATO OR-1 (Private) is called a Guardsman in Guards Regiments, a Gunner in Artillery units and a Sapper in Engineer units). These names make no different to the pay or role that the soldier undertakes.
The uniform of the British Army currently exists in sixteen categories ranging from ceremonial uniforms to combat dress.
The day-to-day uniform is No. 8 Dress and is known as Personal Clothing System – Combat Uniform (PCS-CU). It is based around a Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) windproof smock, a lightweight jacket and trousers with a range of ancillaries such as thermals and waterproofs. In recent years, the British army has introduced Tactical Recognition Flashes (TRFs) – worn on the right arm of a combat uniform, this distinctive insignia denotes the wearer's regiment or corps (or sub division thereof in the case of the AGC). PCS-CU is designed to be lightweight, yet durable enough to be used throughout rigorous activities soldiers find themselves performing; and with the idea that layers of clothing are warmer and more flexible than a single thick layer.
Working headress is normally worn, which is typically a beret. The colour of the beret usually shows what type of regiment the wearer is from. The colours are as follows:
A regiment or corps cap badge is worn on the beret. The badge is positioned above the left eye when a beret or a caubeen is worn; the badge worn on the Tam O'Shanter sits above the left ear. Some Regiments and Corps wear a stable belt in No 8 dress whilst others restrict its use. The stable belt is a wide belt, made of a tough woven fabric. It is traditionally fastened with a set of leather straps and buckles on the wearer's left hand side (in some units to their front), but may alternatively have a metal locket arrangement, or a plate at the front bearing regimental, or formation insignia. The fabric of the belt itself is in regimental colours, either a single colour or striped along its length. The origin of these combinations is often traditional, derived from historic uniform colours and facings, and may coincide with the design of a particular unit's TRF.
Soldiers are issued with a Mk 6 Combat Helmet or a Mk 7 helmet with a MTP cover and some scrim netting for the insertion of additional camouflage. In jungle conditions, the helmet is usually substituted by a MTP bush hat – or equally in cold conditions, a MTP peaked hat. When the British Army finds itself in peacekeeping roles, regimental headress is worn (where the tactical situation allows) in preference to the helmet or MTP hat, in order to appear less hostile to local civilians. When working for the United Nations, soldiers will wear the pale blue UN beret. On exercises and operations the stable belt is replaced with a plain green field belt, with nylon Personal Load Carrying Equipment and the Osprey body armour vest with pouches attached using the PALS system being worn for load-bearing purposes.
In addition to the working dress the British Army has a number of parade uniforms that are used for both ceremonial and non-ceremonial occasions. The most commonly seen uniforms are No.1 Dress (full ceremonial - seen at formal occasions such as at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace) and No.2 Dress (Service Dress) which is a smart brown design seen at non-ceremonial parades. As with all parts of the British Army there is wide variation in the look and design of these uniforms dependant on the unit that wears it.
Tommy Atkins and other nicknames
A long established nickname for a British soldier has been Tommy Atkins or Tommy for short. The origins are obscure but most probably derive from a specimen army form circulated by the Adjutant-General Sir Harry Calvert to all units in 1815 where the blanks had been filled in with the particulars of a Private Thomas Atkins, No 6 Company, 23rd Regiment of Foot. German soldiers in both world wars would usually refer to their British opponents as Tommys. Present-day British soldiers are often referred to as Toms or just Tom. The British Army magazine Soldier has a regular cartoon strip, Tom, featuring the everyday life of a British soldier. Outside the services, soldiers are generally known as squaddies by the British popular press, and the general public.
Another nickname which applies only to soldiers in Scottish regiments is Jock, derived from the fact that in Scotland the common Christian name John is often changed to Jock in the vernacular. Welsh soldiers are occasionally referred to as Taffy or just Taff. This may only apply to those from the Taff-Ely Valley in South Wales, where a large portion of men, left unemployed from the decline of the coal industry in the area, enlisted during the First and Second World Wars. Alternatively, it is derived from the supposed Welsh pronunciation of Dafydd—the vernacular form of Dave or Davey, the patron Saint of Wales being Saint David. As a nickname for the Welsh it has existed since 1699.
Junior officers in the army, especially those from a privileged background, are sometimes known as Ruperts by the other ranks. This nickname is believed to have been derived from the children's comic book character Rupert Bear who epitomises traditional public school values and from the purported preponderance of that particular forename amongst young men from a public school background.